Black History Month: Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures does its job well, telling the uplifting story of three trailblazing black women at NASA in the ’60s by showing some Obviously Racist Policies that the main characters Resist With Dignity until Good-at-Heart White People learn some Valuable Lessons and Civil Rights Are Won and Racism Defeated, all in Tasteful Period Costumes. Well, that’s a little bit how the movie works, and it’s no surprise that it does; if you’re going to get a major studio picture made about race in America, and pick up those Oscar nominations, you have to take the prestige approach. But what I liked best about this movie was that it doesn’t just stick to the template. There are wonderfully powerful and subversive moments throughout Hidden Figures.

mv5bmzg2mzg4ymutnddkny00nwy1lwe3nmetzwmwngnlmze5yzu3xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymja5mtizmjq-_v1_sy1000_cr006751000_al_

Continue reading

Advertisements

Black History Month: The Wiz

Up until now, I’ve reviewed only movies with black directors, but I’m making an exception today because although Sidney Lumet directed The Wiz, it’s one of the few all-black musicals and was a big deal on its release in 1978. Transferred from the stage to the screen in what was then the most expensive musical production ever, the film was shot on location in New York and in studio space in Queens, and it starred Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow. Forty years after its release, the movie doesn’t stand out as one of the great musicals committed to film, but it does have many wonderful numbers and a great cast.
the-wiz-movie-poster-1978-1020196609

Continue reading

Black History Month: I Am Not Your Negro

The screenwriting credit for I Am Not Your Negro is James Baldwin. This is quite the claim for director Raoul Peck to make, considering that he made this movie about Baldwin thirty years after the great writer’s death. Peck took words that Baldwin wrote, and clips of words he spoke, and wove a narrative about race in America, and what the future of the country might be on that front. I started watching this movie thinking it was a biopic on Baldwin, and found that instead it was a biopic on America.

71yqgyuakol-_sy550_

In speeches he gave at Cambridge and in France, in essays he published and personal letters he wrote to friends, Baldwin patiently explained just how deep the wounds of slavery are in the US, and how impossible it is to move forward on issues of true equality until those wounds are addressed.

One of the most striking moments in the film is when Baldwin is on a talk show and an old white man joins him onstage. He’s a professor of philosophy, and he comes out to decry the identity politics that he sees as becoming increasingly popular — why must we be so hung up on these issues of identity? Baldwin’s reply, that when your identity makes you a target for very real violence, that discussing political issues is always tinged with the personal because of what might happen to you personally, is piercing. It’s the answer to every #AllLivesMatter complaint.

Peck doesn’t shy from making explicit connections between the problems of Baldwin’s time and the problems of our time — because they’re the same problems, ones we as a nation refuse to face head-on. As Samuel L. Jackson reads words from Baldwin’s letters and essays, videos from the march on Selma and the protests in Ferguson play, and photos of Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin flash on the screen.

The title of the film is a slight alteration of a James Baldwin quote from near the end of the film. As with so much of what he said and wrote, it’s a brilliant, difficult statement that we have to grapple with urgently. “What white people have to do is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a n***er in the first place, because I’m not a n***er,” he said. “I’m a man, but if you think I’m a n***er, it means you need it… If I’m not a n***er and you invented him — you, the white people, invented him — then you’ve got to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that, whether or not it’s able to ask that question.”

Image.

Black History Month: The Black Panther Party — Vanguard of a Revolution

I never learned about the Black Panther Party in school, but whenever it was I did first hear about them, I remember thinking only, “They sound dangerous.” As I was a white girl from the suburbs, I suppose that’s not so surprising. After watching Stanley Nelson’s The Black Panther Party: Vanguard of a Revolution, I might even say I was half right. The Panthers were dangerous — dangerous to the system that made black urban life so hard, dangerous to the racist law enforcement officials who brutally kept the system in place, dangerous to the idea that the way things were was the way things had to be.

“We don’t hate nobody because of their color. We hate oppression. We hate murder of black people in our communities.”Bobby Seale, in an early speech

the-black-panthers-vanguard-of-the-revolution Continue reading

Black History Month: Belle

I described Belle to a friend as “an 18th-century period piece interrogating race and class — with romance, and pretty dresses.” The poster alone sends a little jolt: here’s a typical Jane Austen adaptation-type poster, with a pretty young woman in a gorgeous dress, in a well-appointed room, hands demurely clasped in front of her, awaiting the man that will be a good match for her. But this pretty young woman isn’t white, as all the others in all the other posters are; she’s black.

file_584855_belle-poster

Continue reading

Black History Month: Girls Trip

In recent years, Hollywood has seen #OscarsSoWhite and #TimesUp, and it has generally responded with a shrug of the shoulders and a few token awards and wider releases to appease the masses of us who just want better representation, fair pay, and a safe and equal place to work. In this context, enter 2017’s Girls Trip, which is at once a reflection of real issues in women’s lives (love, career, friendship) and a raunchy group comedy that gloriously pushes the bounds of what we’re used to seeing on screen in a major studio release.

In this movie, black women are allowed to let loose and let fly like they rarely are in movies and indeed in real life. Part of this is the privilege of class — these are upper-middle-class women, except for Regina Hall’s character, who is rich and about to get richer — but also it’s because reality is only allowed so much rein here. The women get into a fistfight in a club and then sneak out the side door, no one the wiser. They get off their faces on absinthe and laugh about it later, rather than being kicked out for inappropriate behavior. In short, they’re friends goofing around and getting into mild trouble, like in The Hangover or Bridesmaids or any other film that allows groups of friends to kick back without any real consequence. Continue reading

Taking and Making: February 2

Today, I took in:

Groundhog Day

a chapter of A People’s History of the United States

several chapters of Over Sea, Under Stone

 

I made:

a post on The Hate U Give

some frankly adorable brownies with little Oreo groundhogs popping out of them (see below), which were enjoyed while watching Bill Murray undergo his Buddhist journey toward enlightenment in the classic 1993 film

27628971_875814384200_121500797285502735_o